Does "ClimateGate" expose weird science or political propaganda?
By Byron Schlomach, Ph.D.
Twenty years ago a biologist showed me a graph from a peer-reviewed scientific journal that showed an alarming increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration. Then I noticed the graph's scale was logarithmic and made even small increases look exaggerated. I've been skeptical of the science behind global warming ever since.
Weird ScienceNow there's ClimateGate. Somebody hacked the University of East Anglia's e-mail server in England and downloaded e-mails to and from scientists in the Climate Research Unit, perhaps the world's premier climate research center. The messages show scientists engaged in politics over science. One damaging e-mail includes this remark:
"I've just completed Mike's Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (i.e. from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith's to hide the decline."
"Mike" is Michael Mann, made famous by the "hockey stick" temperature diagram Al Gore helped popularize. It first appeared in a UN report on global warming and purports to show that earth's recent temperature is the highest in a thousand years, using tree ring data to reconstruct past temperatures. Mann apparently grafted in data from unrelated modern sources to get the desired result when ring data didn't cooperate.
Add to this the recent confession that raw temperature data have long been destroyed. These data are the basis of the two main datasets used by the UN for its policy reports. Now nobody can actually check the methodology of the data that's being used to dictate international policy.
Given the lack of reliable, replicable, scientific evidence of global warming, it calls into question the wisdom behind the Arizona Corporation Commission renewable energy standards that will cost Arizona utility customers billions in the coming years. The Commission should rely on more than questionable science before they strike a multi-billion dollar blow to Arizona's already fragile economy. I've got plenty of raw data to back that up, by the way.
Byron Schlomach, Ph.D., is the director of the Goldwater Institute's Center for Economic Prosperity.
Goldwater Institute: Miller v. Arizona Corporation Commission
Power Line: Global Warming Bombshell
TimesOnline: Climate change data dumped
Ian Plimer: Heaven and Earth: Global Warming, the Missing Science
The more important remarks are in bold-face type; I give them from top to bottom:
- Signing one's name "Given Surname, PhD" is a practice generally frowned upon as pretentious, and often as an attempt to establish a spurious credibility outside one's field of expertise. Schlomach's training is in economics; mine is in physics. Neither of us are climatologists but I gather from (unpleasant) personal communications with Schlomach that he doesn't read climatology papers and isn't familiar with even the basic science. It's perhaps too much to say that those who do not read the primary literature should not comment on recent science--even though I hold myself to that standard when it comes to both natural science and economics--but we should at least expect someone with the cojones to offer a strong opinion to not make mistakes that would earn college freshmen an "F" in their survey course exam. That should be the end of the story, and the comma PhD thing is thus in this case like putting icing on a turd.
- The standard logarithmic scale doesn't exaggerate small changes--it does quite the opposite. But either way, Schlomach is acting as though there was a deceit involved. In physical and natural sciences we use logarithmic scales all the time--and it's nearly always obvious when one is being used from the axis labels, tick marks, and grid lines if present. And since he is trained in a technical field, Schlomach should be able to read a graph.
This is really just another instance of something common from denialists (more on that term below): a tendency to make standard scientific practices out to be deceitful when they are not.
- Schlomach calls himself a "skeptic". I don't see that manifested here; it appears he's caught up in a pitchfork-wielding mob. And no real skeptic would refer anyone to Plimer, nor would a real skeptic argue (as Schlomach did in previous public messages) that (carbon-neutral over relevant timescales) human breath is at issue.
It's worse than what is in this e-mail alone. In what appeared to be seriousness, Schlomach once asked me to debunk a very bizarre graph without referring him to scientific literature. Don't think it takes much: there's no scale on the Y axis, no indication of what is plotted on the Y axis, no explanation of methodology on the source website, and the whole thing appears to be made up of clerverly arranged cubic splines. But it isn't clear what they're trying to argue in the first place. "Hey Kalafut, tell me what's wrong with this squiggle" is a Rorshach test.
This is why I call Schlomach a "denialist". He doesn't consider--doesn't even bother to read--the solid evidence in favor of the mainstream scientific position, but he will hold up the weakest of evidence--including an unlabeled squiggle--in favor of his seemingly predetermined conclusion. "Skeptical", my ass. The scientists are, by and large, the skeptics. As libertarian commentators go, Bryan Caplan, Megan McArdle, and Tyler Cowen (for example) are acting like skeptics in the wake of "Climategate". Schlomach and co are credulous--that's the opposite of skeptical.
- When proxy data and instrumental data disagree, which would you trust more? Michael Mann and co-authors plotted the instrumental record along with their proxy reconstruction, were honest and up-front about it in their paper, and it becomes an issue now for what reason? Objection to "shop talk" diction in private e-mails?
If nothing else, the divergence problem--the mismatch with the instrumental record beginning in about 1960--means proxy reconstructions should be taken cum grano salis The case for anthropogenic global warming never depended on paleoclimatology, anyway, despite the emphasis put on it by right-winger, so if plotting two data sets on the same graph and being honest about it is an issue, it's really a sideshow. Schlomach isn't so much making a point about the scientific case here as he is trying to create an "aura" of doubt on science.
- Schlomach's claim that raw temperature data were destroyed is an outright lie. A lie that has become "social truth", like the Emperor's clothes, on the Right, but a lie nonetheless. Representatives of CRU recently remarked that they deleted their copies of raw data and kept only their derived data sets. Each of these derived data sets was accompanied by a paper explaining methodologies and listing data sources. The only exception is CRU TS 3.0, the latest gridded time-series, for which the paper is "in preparation". As far as one can tell, the raw data are still available if one contact the original sources, who provided it to CRU. There have been no reports in the press or in the scientific community of these groups also deleting their data, consequently, we cannot even say here that Schlomach is understandably mistaken.
- "Given the untimely death of Byron Schlomach, Kalafut's allegations cannot possibly be answered." See what I did there? Even supposing that Schlomach were right about CRU, there is plenty of other evidence for global warming. This begins with the spectral properties of gases and the application of modern physics to them, culminating in general circulation models (GCMs), although there are plenty of simpler treatments which give less precise results. In principle the case for global warming need not be founded on an historical record at all. If a cartridge is in the chamber and the gun is put to the temple, we can predict brain damage if the trigger is pulled; we do not need position and velocity measurements of the bullet in the barrel. Having temperature data helps us to refine models and do historical attribution studies, and there are other temperature measurements independent of CRU data sets, from GISS, from the raw data, from satellites, etc., and other evidence such as long-term decline of sea ice extent, moving of tree lines, and changes in seasonal behavior of animals and plants.
So even if Schlomach were right about CRU, what he says is "given" is not so: lie number two. But he's not right about CRU: whatever evidence has emerged about misconduct pertaining to FOI requests, there has been no evidence that could lead to the retraction of a single scientific paper or that otherwise calls CRU science into question. That a few thousand bad-faith Internet ideologues are playing "let's pretend it does" and maybe tenfold more nincompoops and illiterates believe them doesn't change that. Science runs on reason, not on memes.
- Schlomach's bibliograhy exposes him as someone who either can't tell the difference between good argument and bad, or doesn't care. Ian Plimer's Heaven and Earth is the most discredited academic monograph since Bellesiles's Arming America, and its recommendation by Schlomach should be taken as nothing short of evidence that Schlomach's intent is to deceive. In the age of Internet search engines, it takes a downright creative selection of keywords to find information on Bellesiles or especially his book without finding an account of the deception contained therein. A naïve search will not do it. It is likewise for Plimer. Ian Enting's list is a good place to get started, but just search yourself if you want to know what I mean.
What Schlomach has yet to come to appreciate is just how much this matters. "Haha...I lied to boost popular support for our Corporation Commission lawsuit, so what?" The "so what" is that not only will being caught in a lie hurt support, but also that if I know I cannot trust him to be honest and competent (separate issues, but both are at work here) when it comes to topics I know about, how can I trust him to be honest and competent on topics where he is presumably the expert? There is no compartmentalizing of trust.